Science-fiction icon Ray Bradbury, who was quoted the other day as saying that e-books will never succeed because they're "not books," is wrong.They're succeeding already, and they <i>are</i> -- pretty much -- books.

Alexander Wolfe, Contributor

June 5, 2008

3 Min Read

Science-fiction icon Ray Bradbury, who was quoted the other day as saying that e-books will never succeed because they're "not books," is wrong.They're succeeding already, and they are -- pretty much -- books.If the sentiment had come from the lips of anyone other than Bradbury, an author for the ages who busted the boundaries of his too-often-juvenile genre, they'd be worthless. But attention must be paid, especially when you consider that Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, a dystopian vision of how far people will go to hang onto the printed word.

Mostly, though, I'm mystified by what he told a lunchtime audience at BookExpo in Los Angeles the other day.

"There is no future for e-books, because they are not books," Bradbury said. "E-books smell like burned fuel," he added.

Surely the second half of the quote was meant metaphorically, since Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Digital Book Reader don't smell much different than any other gadget jacketed in a petrochemical-based plastic housing. Me, I'm more bothered by the aggressive ugliness of the Kindle and its Elmer's Glue white color than by its olfactory impact. The Sony reader is, of course, elegantly styled, though Amazon seems to have captured the e-book marketing high ground, such as it is.

As to Bradbury's main point, sadly, he is wrong. True, e-books are not bricks-and-mortar books (OK, paper and cardboard, which simplifies to "paper"; I haven't seen a leather-bound book in a long time). They're not physical objects which can be treasured, pulled off the bookshelf as the mood strikes, transported on trips, or toted along in book bags.

According to the latest stats, though, readers think they're books, because they're buying lots of them. There's this from a New York Times report out of BookExpo:

"Nearly all publishers say their sales of electronic books are growing exponentially. Carolyn K. Reidy, the chief executive of Simon & Schuster, said its sales of electronic books will more than double this year compared to last year, after growing 40% in 2007 from 2006. David Shanks, the chief executive of Penguin Group USA, said his company sold more electronic books in the first four months of 2008 than in all of last year."

I saw another story (I can't find the link, cause I saw it in a dead-tree newspaper, so I don't have the e-link) which noted that e-book sales are taking off most notably in the professional- and technical-book arena.

So, while Bradbury's correct if what he's getting at is that people like to curl up with a good novel, the e-book train already has left the station when it comes to the presentation of information people need, as opposed to reading for pleasure. Kindle, please.

For a loosely related post, read "Clarke Never Crossed Sci-Fi Humanities Divide."

Like this blog? Subscribe to its RSS feed, here.

For a mobile experience, follow my daily observations on Twitter.

Check out my tech videos on this YouTube channel.

About the Author(s)

Alexander Wolfe

Contributor

Alexander Wolfe is a former editor for InformationWeek.

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like


More Insights